Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Quick Update

So, Pericles closed on Friday and went off pretty well.  I still don't think it's Shakespeare's greatest play, or anything like that, but it is complicated and ambitious.  The topoi of familial relationships, nationality, and sanctity I think are a particularly interesting backdrop in a sort of whirlwind adventure.  I also really admire the time Shakespeare takes to color some of the smallest characters.  One of the workers at the brothel in Mytilene gets a wonderful little moment when Marina asks to be put "amongst honest women," and he responds, "Faith, madam my acquaintance lies little amongst them" with a kind of honest self-deprecation.  All in all, a solid show.

Now I'm helping out with a rock opera entitled Dead Superheroes, music and lyrics by Mark Winston and book by Jack Tamburri.  We're preparing for a scaled-down performance of the first act at the Abbie Hoffman Theatre Festival.  Here are some links to check it out, let me know what you think.  The Dead Superheroes (the music), Abbie Hoffman Theatre Festival.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Getting Off Book

More on the essence of theater being alive onstage.  As I've mentioned I've been working on a production of Shakespeare's Pericles for the past month and there's one joke that has completely baffled me this whole time.
Well, call forth, call forth.

For flesh and blood, sir, white and red, you shall
see a rose; and she were a rose indeed, if she had but--

What, prithee?

O, sir, I can be modest.
So, on paper this joke didn't make any damn sense this whole month.  IF SHE HAD BUT WHAT??  But today I read the joke aloud for the first time, the joke isn't really in what he doesn't say, it's in what he does say "a rose" "arose" -- aroused.  If only you could get her aroused.  Because Marina is beautiful but sworn to chastity.  Perhaps this is the most trivial example of the importance of living theater, but seriously it's going to improve the hell out of the scene for this to be an intelligible joke.  If any one else has any other ideas about this joke feel free to email or post them, it's from Act IV, Scene 6.  Maybe I'm still overlooking something.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Carol vs. Carrel

Serves me right for making fun of libraries.  An intrepid reader points out "carrel" is the more common spelling for little reading cubicles.  Although I swear I looked it up first.  My apologies.  (Entries from the OED).

The Will to Submission

Unremarkably, I suppose, I really love food.  I especially like it if it comes off a truck, wagon, or small hole in a wall, but I can settle for having to sit down occasionally as well.  Something I've noticed about a lot of my favorite places to eat and drink, however, is how many rules and restrictions they have and how willingly the hungry will submit to any manner of impositions.

Highly limited offerings are essential.  At some of the best places you can only get one thing (usually tacos), but limited menus in general tend to promise imminent delight.  Hot Doug's is an obvious example as is Kuma's Corner (you could get something besides a burger, but you'd be stupid) and Johnny's Tavern has a full bar, but you'll never see anyone with anything besides whatever Czech beer Johnny is handing out that night.  Other important factors are difficulty of access and odd hours.  We love to be abused!

The rules function in a few different ways.  Most important of these may be the way in which they immediately highlight regulars: anyone who already knows all the rules belongs there, and tourists or first-timers stick out strongly. I also just like the ceremony of it all.  Surmounting the hassle makes it all just taste a little sweeter.  Importantly though, and I hope this isn't too much of a stretch, the place has to deliver on its own terms.  Like "Hamlet on Mars," if the only thing you can say about a place is all the hoops you have to jump through once you get there, no one is going to go.  The food has to be worth it.  The adventure of a place like Johnny's might be enough to get a few new people in the door every weekend but if that Czech beer weren't great, or Johnny so charming no one would go back a second time.  

The narrative of attendance, then, that is so important to marketing-- "what is going there?," "why should I go there?," "who else goes there?" -- fails if the art fails.  We are just so desperate for that product that we are willing to submit to the precedence of these minutia in our search.

I guess I'd be stupid if I didn't link to some Soup Nazi, enjoy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Justify my Show?

There really is a commonly held belief that a new production of an old show has somehow to justify its existence and while I have covered this a little bit before, I think I want to tackle it again.  On one level I like the discipline of such a belief, and I think having producers and directors deeply ask themselves before embarking on a new production, "why do I get to do this?"  might aid in the avoidance of some bad work.  But the troubling thing about this tendency is that it misunderstands the theatrical experience (and excellence) to a rather stunning degree.  That is, it understands scripts as the fundamental unit of theater and theater, then, as a principally literary form--something to be read in a high-school class, or puzzled over in a library carol--defined by direct discourse immediately delivered by characters taking opposing sides in a struggle.  This misses the whole point!  Theater is something that happens on a stage with actors and an audience, and a script, while helpful, has long been proven inessential to a play.  An author has written a script.  Great.  But it isn't theater until it is recited onstage.  The real thing to justify is reading it in a classroom.  

Moreover, I fear the present necessity of justifying revivals has actually led to an unfortunate anxiety about them, an anxiety which has forced people instead of making excellent productions to resort to elaborate ideas.  These ideas distinguish shows and sell them, make a narrative about why a new production is relevant or necessary but distract from the truth.  The truth is that the play--not the production--is relevant and necessary; if it weren't it wouldn't be worth doing again.  The "idea production" will only be a game of smoke and mirrors to distract from the play itself unless the decisions are motivated and excellent.  One should only ever need to say, "I saw an excellent production of Hamlet last night," not "I saw a Hamlet set on Mars last night."  Could a great Hamlet be done on Mars? Well, yes, of course.  But Mars won't make it great.  Good acting, good direction, good design, and by god, a damn fine script will make it a good show.  Whatever gets in the way of these things will be deadly.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Plays and Movies

A funny thing happened today that really reminded me how fundamentally different movies are from the theater.  I'm going to be acting in my friend Jim Plank's new movie (currently titled The Rehearsal) and we had a meeting today to discuss it.  Jim mentioned to me that if I came across a gold watch I should buy it because we need it for a prop.  I pointed out to him that it didn't really matter because I have silver and gold spray paint in the prop closet and I could just spray any watch to be what he wants.  He stopped for a while and then pointed out that the film was going to start with a close-up on the watch and that it would probably be pretty obvious if it had been spray-painted.

I think one of the things I really like about theater is the partiality of its artifice: as soon as you're backstage--even onstage--it's evident where all the secrets come from.  That book you're saying is the bible is really a math textbook from the '20s, those cigarettes have jelly in the center, and none of the windows open in the palace.  Film doesn't get away with that kind of thing.  There is a high premium on "realism" because, on one level, it really is necessary. 

I've been worrying about the contemporary relationship between film and theater for a while now, and I'll post the results as soon as there are any.  Until then, here's Jerzy Grotowski on the stakes of the debate: "In our age when all languages are confused as in the Tower of Babel, when all aesthetical genres intermingle, death threatens the theater as film and television encroach upon its domain.  This makes us examine the nature of theater, how it differs from the other art forms, and what it is that makes it irreplaceable." (From "The Theatre's New Testament" in Towards a Poor Theatre)